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What are the elements of a novel in English literature?

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In general, the main elements of a novel are narration, plot, theme, setting, and character.

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A novel is a book-length fictional prose narrative that contains six primary elements: character, plot, point of view, setting, style, and theme. Let's look at these six through a sample novel, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

The characters of any novel are its actors—those people who perform actions and who are the recipients of actions. In the first Harry Potter novel, the protagonist (main character) is Harry Potter himself, but he is joined by a whole host of other characters, including Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, Hagrid, Dumbledore, and Voldemort.

A novel's plot is its storyline, which begins with an exposition, rises in action and tension until it reaches its climax, and then resolves in its ending. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, we watch as Harry learns of his wizarding heritage, goes to Hogwarts, and becomes involved in the mystery of the hidden Sorcerer's Stone. The novel reaches its climax when Harry meets Voldemort face to face and then resolves when Dumbledore explains various circumstances to Harry and Harry heads back to the Dursleys' home for the summer.

All novels are told from a point of view, which is a perspective on the action. Sometimes we have a third-person narrator who is not otherwise part of the story. This is the case in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, yet even here, the narrator speaks mostly from Harry's perspective, delving into his thoughts and feelings rather than those of other characters. Other novels have omniscient third-person narrators who tell the story from multiple perspectives. Still others are told from the first-person viewpoint of one of the characters who speaks for himself or herself.

Setting is an important element for a novel. It is the scene or scenes in which the action takes place. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the story's first setting is the Dursleys' house. Then we move with Harry to Hogwarts and watch in fascination as Harry and his friends explore the castle and its grounds. In fact, Hogwarts is such a well-defined setting that it almost becomes a character in its own right.

A novel's style is the author's particular usage of language—his or her word choices, syntax, and other linguistic elements. J. K. Rowling uses a fairly simple linguistic style for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, but the book is vivid in its details, imagery, and symbolism.

Finally, novels explore various themes or ideas that help readers grasp the message and meaning of the story. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone revolves around such themes as the power of love, home and belonging, friendship, good versus evil, and self-sacrifice.

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  1. Narrator- The mind from which all aspects of the story are necessarily told 
  2. Theme- one or more direct or indirect statements about the human condition as evidenced through the work as a whole
  3. Plot- the series of events which make up the story, traditionally, conflict, climax, denouement, and conclusion
  4. Setting- the place, the time, and the social circumstances of the work.
  5. Tone- The general attitude of the author toward the characters or the subject matter of the book.
  6. Characters- the sentient or non-sentient beings alive or dead who are the actors of the events
  7. Point of View- perspective from which a work is told, 1st 3rd; omniscient, limited
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The elements of a novel are the same elements as that of the short story--plot, theme, setting, point of view, character--except that there may be more than one of each of these elements.  That is, within the main plot of a novel there may be several subplots, there may be more than one theme, and point of view can certainly change as well. For instance, in William Faulkner's novel, "The Sound and the Fury," the first part of the narrative is recounted by Benjy, a grown man with the intelligence of a small child whose childhood memories merge with the present occurrences.  Then, the point of view switches to the point of view of Quentin, a stream-of-consciousness not unlike Benjy's, yet somewhat different. Then, the third part of the novel is narrated by Jason Compson IV, the brother of Quentin, who has committed suicide.  Finally, the fourth section of this novel has yet another narrator.

Themes such as love and passion and pride run throughout Faulkner's novel. replete with many characters. Thus, the reader of the novel encounters more intracacies of the elements, changing settings, more complications and much more development of plot and character--even changing points of view sometimes --than in the short story.

Just as Faulkner's novel reflects life in his beloved South, the English novel traditionally has been strongly influenced by the social, political, economic, scientific, and cultural history of England. Old English narratives, such as "Beowulf" and "The Canterbury Tales" are closely connected to the cultural history of England. Usually, the English novel from the eighteenth century on focuses on the individual and his/her relationship with his environment.  Jane Austen's novels have as their main focus the society in which her characters live.  His/her personal emotions are often closely examined, as well with characterization is highly developed in the English novel as in those of Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy, for example.

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